THE All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship is headed for its eighth structural change in 16 years on Saturday, when Central Council considers two proposals, one of which will be introduced in 2014.
The proposals were discussed by Central Council in December but a decision was deferred, pending further consultations by members with their various counties. The two latest blueprints for change were prepared by the Central Competitions Control Committee ( CCCC) and the Hurling Development Work Group (HDWG).
CCCC's proposals centre mainly on reducing the numbers competing for the Liam MacCarthy Cup and using a round-robin mechanism to decide which counties outside the top 10 should be eligible to enter the All-Ireland race.
Cork, Tipperary, Clare, Limerick and Waterford would compete for the Munster championship (Group A) on a round-robin basis in 2014 while Kilkenny, Dublin, Offaly, Wexford and Galway would do likewise in Leinster (Group B)
That would guarantee each county two homes games. The top two would qualify for the provincial finals with the winners going directly into the All-Ireland semi-finals, while the runners-up would qualify for the quarter-finals.
The third-placed teams in each group would play the top two from a group featuring Antrim, Carlow, Laois, Westmeath and London (Group C) for the other two quarter-final places. Placings in Group C would be decided on a round-robin basis, running simultaneously with the provincial championships.
Group C would be increased to six teams later on; relegation/promotion between that group and the Christy Ring tier is also envisaged.
The CCCC proposal calls for a reduction from 15 to 13 in the number of counties competing for the Liam MacCarthy Cup by 2016. This year's Leinster championship will have 10 contestants, with outsiders Galway, Antrim and London joining Kilkenny, Dublin, Wexford, Offaly, Laois, Carlow and Westmeath, while Munster will have five.
CCCC want Leinster reduced initially to a guaranteed five (Kilkenny, Dublin, Galway, Offaly and Wexford), plus the top two from a group featuring Laois, Carlow, Westmeath, Antrim and London, who would decide placings on a round-robin system.
Relegation/promotion would apply across the various tiers, but the main aim is to reduce the total field for the All-Ireland race by two to 13.
The CCCC proposal seeks to return to the situation which prevailed in 2010, when 13 counties competed. Westmeath and London have since come aboard in Leinster.
CCCC are offering teams in Group C an incentive by playing off the group on a round-robin basis, thus ensuring every team gets four games, with the top two guaranteed another in the Leinster quarter-final.
The HDWG has taken the round-robin concept a stage further by proposing that it apply in the Leinster and Munster championships, arguing that it carries the clear advantage of guaranteeing every county two home championship games while still ensuring that the Munster and Leinster finals are retained.
The successful proposal from Saturday's meeting will be put before Congress in Derry on March 23.